Academic journal article CineAction

Representing Justice in the Act of Killing and the Unknown Known

Academic journal article CineAction

Representing Justice in the Act of Killing and the Unknown Known

Article excerpt

Most of us think of the invitation to act in a film as a desirable, even enviable, opportunity. But what if the invitation is not to act in a film but to be in a film, to be yourself in a film? What will others think of you; how will they judge you? What aspects of your life may stand revealed that you had not anticipated?... [These questions] place a different burden of responsibility on filmmakers who set out to represent others rather than to portray characters of their own invention.--BILL NICHOLS

The three documentary films I will discuss are The Unknown Known (2013), (1) The Act of Killing (2012), (2) and Sophie Fiennes' documentary on the thought of Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (2012), (3) the latter shot in the mode Bill Nichols would call "expository," which "directly addresses issues in the historical world," and is "overly didactic." (4) The first two are shot in the mode Nichols would call "participatory," emphasizing the use of "archival footage'" and documenting the filmmaker's direct intervention and interaction with his/her subjects. As Nichols alludes to, these "participatory" documentaries raise all sorts of vexing questions about ethics and justice, forcing us to ask, if we are willing, whether or not the camera has any business seeking out justice, or whether or not it is ethical for us, as viewers, to expect any kind of justice or redress through the passive consumption of these types of documentary films.

Zizek's discussion of the Lacanian "big Other" will serve a purpose here--particularly its rendering on film via Sophie Fiennes. This filmic discussion of the big Other, in terms of content, certainly lambastes our continual dependence on societal "big Others" (i.e. our reliance on such "Others" to point the way toward something like justice, for example). However, at the same time, the filmic representation of this message serves to underscore a dangerous and lingering ideological big Other: the (Western) belief in supra-historical interstitial imaginative spaces from within which any notion of justice could be derived--a belief rendered aesthetically most effectively, hence most deceptively, via (documentary) film. Exposure of the camera's pernicious fixation on this big Other of "justice"--as achievable via the impersonal capture of so-called "objective" interstitial spaces--is what I seek to do here.

In a very curious essay called "The Future of Possibility," Stanley Cavell addresses squarely the prospect of possibilities lost, citing the following passage: "Everything is worn out: revolutions, profits, miracles. The planet itself shows signs of fatigue and breakdown, from the ozone layer to the temperature of the oceans." (6) These words, seemingly benign, immediately restrict the type of activity human beings ought to carry out--that is, if possibilities surrounding revolutions, profits, and miracles are exhausted at the outset. What this paper seeks to address is if, by extension, the idea of justice, or redress, is also exhausted. Here is where I think Cavell, and even Zizek, see a particular role for philosophy, though we have to ask if, in their conception of things, something like justice and transcendence are mutually exclusive.

Cavell appeals to the American transcendentalists (Emerson most famously) to, if not declare, then reframe, the goal of philosophy as one of "integration"--that of the pessimisms of the old world and its failed revolutionary politics (Europe) to which must be added the philosophy of a "new yet unapproachable America." In making the case for possibility, then, Cavell quotes from "Experience": "In liberated moments we know that a new picture of life and duty is already possible." (8) Cavell goes on to add his commentary:

   This demand for integration sounds like a beginning
   of that American optimism or Emersonian
   cheerfulness to which an old European sophistication
   knows so well how to condescend. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.